Is the Remote Work Revolution Flopping, Succeeding or Both?
Over the past year, many places have returned to something approximating a prepandemic normal. Restaurants are filling up again. Airports and hotels are packed. Even movie theaters have made a comeback. But that hasn’t been the case for the office. Only about a third of office workers are back in the office full time. And that isn’t likely to change dramatically any time soon: Recent surveys asked executives about the share of their workers who would be back in the office five days a week in the future. In 2021 the response was 50 percent; now it’s down to 20 percent.
But the alternatives — remote and hybrid work — come with their own problems. In many cases, remote work has become synonymous with meeting fatigue, the collapse of work-life balance, overwhelming amounts of email and Slack messages and awkward attempts at social connection. And hybrid work setups often represent what some have called the worst of both work worlds: long commutes to half-empty offices, just to sit on Zoom calls all day.
That leaves office workers in what feels like a work purgatory: The office is dying, but a new, viable model of work has yet to be born. And that liminal space raises all sorts of new questions: What is the office actually for? What will the postoffice future of work look like? And if the future of work means working from home in some capacity, how do we make that future better for everyone involved?
Those questions are at the center of Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel’s book, “Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home.” Petersen is a longtime culture writer who writes the newsletter Culture Study; Warzel is a veteran technology reporter who writes the newsletter Galaxy Brain for The Atlantic. In “Out of Office” they argue that the core problem with current remote and hybrid work setups is this: Workers have left the physical office, but they have taken the broken culture of the office with them. The result is widespread dysfunction but also immense opportunity: If we take this moment to rethink not only where we work but also how we work, then the possibilities are endless.
“How Hybrid Working From Home Works Out” by Nicholas Bloom, Ruobing Han & James Liang
“Hard Work Isn’t the Point of the Office” by Derek Thompson
“The Case Against Loving Your Job” by The Ezra Klein Show
“Stop. Breathe. We Can’t Keep Working Like This” by The Ezra Klein Show
“Think Bigger About Remote Work” by Noah Smith
“I’m Worried About Chicago” by Matthew Yglesias
In the Age of the Smart Machine by Shoshana Zuboff
The Myth of the Paperless Office by Abigail J. Sellen and Richard H. R. Harper
Liquidated by Karen Ho
Essential Labor by Angela Garbes
_This episode is guest hosted by Rogé Karma, the senior editor for “The Ezra Klein Show.” Rogé has been with the show since July 2019, when it was based at Vox. He works closely with Ezra on everything related to the show, from editing to interview prep to guest selection. At Vox, he also wrote articles and conducted interviews on topics ranging from policing and racial justice to democracy reform and the coronavirus._
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You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.
“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris, Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Sonia Herrero and Isaac Jones; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin, Kristina Samulewski, Nicholas Bloom, Adam Ozimek, Julia Hobsbawm and Sheela Subramanian.